A wonderful book that will stay in your mind

IN THE SHADOW OF 1000 HILLS

by

Jennifer Haupt

This is one of the finest books I have read recently. It opens with the picture of a blood spattered child, hiding in a ruined shack, frozen with fear.  What she witnessed,  the horror of people chopped to death with machetes, will never leave her,  the screams of friends and family who did not escape haunting her dreams forever.  She cowers in the filth waiting for the return of a man who has wrapped her in his shirt,  promising to return when it is safe. This is Rwanda during the horrific genocide that occurred there in the 1990s. 

The story moves to the present day in New York where Rachel and her husband are struggling with another miscarriage and the recent death of Rachel’s mother. The trauma has awakened Rachel’s fond memories of her loving father, who left when she was a child, and a desire to find out what happened to him. Where did he go? Why did he not keep in touch as promised?  Is he alive? A skilled photographer. he travelled extensively in search of further unique shots after one of his pictures featured on the front cover of Life magazine.

With the use of the internet and an address she found while clearing out her mother’s house Rachel manages to trace Lillian, who as a girl was the focus in that moving first cover. Despite her husband’s misgivings Rachel determines to visit Lillian in her own country,Rwanda, in the hope that there she will find the answers she seeks.

Lillian is caring for traumatised youngsters,  orphans of the genocide, still traumatised and one, the girl in the shack,  terrified at the possibility she might have to be a witness at the trial of some of the perpetrators. 

The flashbacks suffered by the victims are a graphic insight to the unbridled horror that took place during that time.  Discovering the almost unbelievable  atrocities that took place is emotional and heartrending.   What courage survivors displayed,  when with forgiveness and compassion, they gathered up what was left of a broken society, came to terms with the bitter legacy of divisions, often within families, and the dark memories that must haunt them still.

It is a tender poignant book, containing the best and the worst of human nature.   A powerful story that is moving and informative.  Many of us will remember the media coverage of the Rwandan war but this book brings it into your home revealing how little the media conveyed to us in western society ,highlighting the human tale of the worst kind of savagery.

And yet it is also a love story peopled with vivid believable characters that I suspect are based on truth. The skilful way this emotional story is woven around historical fact has created one of the finest examples of literary fiction I have read for some time.   A unique book that will linger in my mind  for a very long time and one that is impossible to put down.

The characters are all on a journey, for truth, forgiveness and learning to live with intense grief and this writer has skilfully woven a gripping tale leading them to find peace, forgiveness and the ability to move on with their lives.

A debut novel from an experienced journalist and hopefully, not her last.  She visited Rwanda to research the  connection between forgiveness and grief, from which came this novel. I suspect a great percentage of the tale is based on events that did occur.  A revealing, haunting,  heartrending,  superbly crafted tale.

I loved it and was greatly affected by it.

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